Mr. Independent

I would say there are two things that every parent hopes for their child:  good health and independence.  Of course, many parents have many other “plans” and hopes as well but I think it is safe to say these two are fairly consistent across the parenting board.  For a parent of an individual with special needs, it can be overwhelming and daunting to know what this may mean for not only your child but your own future.

Sometimes as a parent or caregiver, you have to take a step back.  Instead of always looking at the BIG picture or for BIG opportunities, look at how the small stuff can make BIG changes or a BIG impact.  That is exactly what the Teter family has done for Jeremy and the changes he has made are anything but SMALL.

Jeremy is 25 years old and is now working at Starbucks, cooking his own breakfast and other meals, working out with FITBuddies 2X/week (he has lost 25 pounds since he started due to both diet and exercise), going to the College of Adaptive Arts, and in the last year, learned how to ride a bike.  You can tell by the way Jeremy walks that his confidence is soaring and he truly has a feeling of independence. As he says, “I’m a grown man, doing man things!”

Of course there are still other things on his list, but overall, Jeremy feels as though he is “living the life.” HUGE opportunities did not come pounding on the Teter family’s door and these changes did not happen over night.  It was a process,  a process of small steps that led to a few more doors opening followed by huge progress and change.

This is part of what the monthly happy hours I am currently organizing are all about.  Sure, it’s a fundraiser but it’s much more than that.  There’s not a person who meets any of my FITBuddies’ participants who doesn’t enjoy getting to know them or love hanging out with them (or at least they all tell me that:); yet, there are far and few between (if any) who are calling these special individuals to hang out on a weekend (or weekday) night.  Yes, there are more and more ‘social’ programs for individuals with special needs but trust me, they can tell the difference between being treated as ‘special’ individuals and being treated just like everyone else.

It is simply a happy hour.  It is not a huge opportunity, but it is something small that can create a big feeling: a feeling of increased independence and inclusion.  Thank you to all who came to the first one and we hope many of you will join us in the future!

A few words from Jeremy, Mr. Independent, the Monday after he came up to the city for Happy Hour:

“Jen, that was the best city night ever.  I really think I could get use to nights out like that.  Do you think we could do that again?”

A few words from Jeremy’s parents (Bill and Mary Lynn Teter) regarding Jeremy’s night out:

Jen, the ‘attitude’ that ‘the’ Jeremy came home with that evening was priceless!
“I’m accepted”, “I have friends”, “They like me”, “I’m just a regular guy.”
Jeremy showed enough self-esteem for any six guys.  We can’t thank you
enough!  You provide a lot of ‘somethings’ for these young people that the
parents just can’t give.

Buddies In ACTION is not just about exercise and health; it’s about creating OPPORTUNITIES that increase INDEPENDENCE and INCLUSION.

Can You Do A Pull-Up?

Any Buddy can do a pull-up!!

I am constantly asked the question “what do you do with your kids?”  I do all the exercises that are efficient and effective but also the ones that everyone wants to do; the ones that increase confidence and cause those uncontrolled reactions of excitement as if you’ve just won a gold medal.  One such exercise is the pull-up.  There is just something about pulling yourself up over the bar for the first time, smiling on the other side, and then doing it over and over again.  It’s contagious. It’s motivating.  I’ve had numerous clients who have said “oh that’s not for me” or “I’ll never be able to do that” but after they witness client after client (and clients of all shapes, sizes and ages) do a pull up, they’re sold.  I want in!

FITBuddies are the same way.  The look around the gym and want to do everything everyone else is doing.  I want them to do everything everyone else is and I also know if taught properly, in stages, they CAN do it.  I do not change what I teach them versus what I teach my other clients to do.  I change HOW I teach them.  There’s a difference.  A very big difference.

You may be thinking yourself, “I can’t do a pull-up.”  As my FITBuddies would say, “if we can do it, so can you.”  There are TONS of ways to progress to a pull-up.  Whether you are doing pull ups from rings, a bar, jumping from a box, using bands, or an assisted machine, the feeling of accomplishment is the same:  get your chin over the bar and smile, you’ve reached the other side and trust me, someone in the gym just noticed you and was inspired by you.

At FITBuddies we are Training the Athlete in EveryBuddy.  We are inspiring others to achieve their athletic goals…because if we can do it, so can you!


December News

October and November were very busy months for FITBuddies and as the program continues to grow, once again I have to say THANKS for all your help and support.  Almost all of our growth has come from you:  it has been from trainers telling their clients more about the program, parents of our current FITBuddies’ participants talking to other parents, and random encounters/emails from friends of friends of friends.  So thank you and keep on talking!  For now, here are a few updates:

FITBuddies @ FIT:  We have a few new participants looking to start in January.  The younger group (ages 8-11) will be starting 2 full hour sessions in January as well.  I can’t thank my volunteers enough as they have been an integral part of making the younger group work.  Each kid really needs 1/1 attention in order for things to run smoothly and everyone to stay safe

Parent’s Meeting:  December 15th @ 7pm at FIT in Los Altos.  FITBuddies is partnering with the College of Adaptive Arts and hosting a meeting for parents of individuals with intellectual disabilities.  The purpose of the meeting is for parents to voice different programs they would like to see available for their kids/young adults.  Please email for more information.

New School Program! I have started working at the Creative Learning Center in Los Altos providing small group sessions during school hours to both preschool and elementary age students.  The school runs a very unique program for kids on the autism spectrum and is a great facility with a very dedicated staff.  I am looking forward to working with both the staff and the kids and already have lots of new special friends.

FITBuddies in SF: Diakadi Body , located at 9th and Division in San Francisco has agreed to support the FITBuddies program for teens/young adults in the afternoons on Wednesday and Fridays.  The goal is to have our first group start in January.  Email for more information.

IHRSA 2011: I will be presenting at IHRSA 2011 on March 16th.  Thom and I have already started preparing, meeting with doctors and other professionals in the field and sorting through research relevant to training individuals with special needs.  This has led to many great connections and has also expanded my goals moving forward.  Most importantly, I am excited that IHRSA accepted a topic new to the majority of trainers and gym owners.

December Topic:  Last month, I talked about the “Good, Bad & the Ugly” of FITBuddies and why I really am thankful for each aspect of FITBuddies.  The “good” keeps me smiling, laughing and absolutely loving what I do and the “Bad” & “Ugly” challenge me and help me continue to learn and grow.  For the month of December I will talk about traditions.  Although I am a sucker for family and holiday traditions and could rattle off a TON of my favorite traditions that I look forward to every year, I am going to talk about our weekly traditions at FITBuddies.  Repetition is very important to individuals with special needs and therefore it is very important to set up certain aspects of the program that never change and are passed down and carried on by every new participant, every session, every year…

Story #9

Enough of the Bad.  Today we’re back to the Good.  The REALLY Good!

Story #9

Happy Birthday Mahayla!!

Mahayla turned 20 on Monday and it’s time to celebrate.  After almost a year at FIT, it’s time to celebrate all she has accomplished, the changes we’ve made and most importantly her mom.  Good doesn’t even begin to describe her mom…incredible, amazing, an inspiration is just a start…

24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  For a parent with a child with special needs, this is your “work” day, week, year.  I dislike writing about my “bad” days like yesterday when I think about the fact that I’m with these kids for 1-2 hours a week. But I’m telling the Bad and Ugly this month because, as many of you know, it’s real and for the parent it’s full time reality.  While any parent or professional that works with these kids will tell you that all the rewarding, good moments outweigh the bad, we can’t disregard the “bad.”  We can’t disregard the “bad” because this is what the majority of society needs to become more educated on and more aware of.  What will help Mahayla’s mom and other parents with special needs is having more opportunities and resources like FIT where they can take their child, implement GOOD (incredible) parenting in a mainstream social setting, not be judged or asked to leave during the Bad moments, and be accepted as their child makes the transition in an unknown place.  With that being said, we also have to celebrate the welcoming and accepting staff at FIT for being patient the last eight months as Mahayla transitioned into the group.

Patient:  Patient doesn’t even begin to describe Mahayla’s mom.  It doesn’t matter how loud Mahayla screams, how fast she darts off, or whether refuses to do any activities for the day.  I have never seen her raise her voice.  Yes, you can tell she gets frustrated at points, but she holds it together and does her best to calmly redirect, motivate, communicate, etc with her daughter.

While many people may judge silent parenting skills in public as it looks, from the outside, as if they are not doing anything, this is GREAT parenting of a child with special needs.  It is always best to use a minimal amount of words and redirect in silence.

Determined:  Mom told me on day 1, that Mahayla is extra special.  She said runs her own show and that we’d just have to take everything one day at time.  Our first goal was to get Mahayla to stay for the whole hour and the second was to participate/be active the whole hour.  Mom is/was beyond determined to make this work.  She drives from Redwood city and in the beginning would sometimes pull up at FIT just to walk in and tell me “it’s just not going to happen today.  She’s not going to get out of the car” or maybe she would come in for 10-15 minutes and then she’d be in the shower, ready to go home.  Mom and I kept checking in and trying to increase her time in the gym but there were plenty of opportunities where Mom could have given up.  Mahayla’s mom was determined and after 8 months, Mahayla now stays for the full hour!

It takes determination to raise a child with special needs.  You have to keep going and keep pushing when the odds are against you and most people would stop or say no.

Dedicated. Mahayla’s Mom is 100% dedicated to her daughter.  She is dedicated to her overall well-being and is committed to providing her with every opportunity she can.  She is dedicated to properly dealing with every trait and symptom that comes with Autism, Epilespy, and Tourettes.  When Mahayla screams at the top of her lungs, her Mom does not look around the gym to see who is staring or reacting to her but instead stays focused on Mahayla and calmly quiets her.  Sometimes Mahayla gets hooked on one piece of equipment, while Mom encourages her to move on, she will sit by her side for the full hour if thats the way it’s going to be for that day (and we always say at least she’s moving)!  Mahayla’s Mom drives 20 minutes to bring her to FIT, she stays by her side for the entire hour, every session, two times per week…now that is dedication!

There are some parents who are dedicated to finding the best services and professionals to work with their child.  And there are some parents who are dedicated to working with professionals to provide the best service possible for their child.

Easy-going/Flexible:  Some days are good, some days are bad.  Sometimes Mahayla participates, sometimes she doesn’t. One day she does everything listed on her board, the next day she won’t go near it.  While Mahayla does do well with following a schedule, you can’t be rigid in your expectations and have to be willing and able to adjust on the fly and make modifications.  Mahayla’s Mom takes what ever comes her way and works with it.

Whether you are a flexible person or not, I think this trait in engrained in you pretty quickly.  You have no choice but to be flexible and roll with the punches.

Humor and a Smile. While many situations are taken very seriously, Mahayla’s Mom has a great way of laughing at the good, bad and the ugly. I always have to laugh when Mahayla comes over to give me her fist pump hand shake.  It’s her signature move.  Sometimes Mahayla will get stuck on a song and all she’ll want to do is sing, dance and wave her arms.  Mom and I will usually support this in some way (I usually sing along with her:).  At points, when Mom feels like she’s tried everythings, she’ll just laugh and say “we’re doing our best.”  Mahayla’s Mom is always supportive of the other buddies and always laughing and joining in on their fun.  She has a smile from ear to ear whenever Mahayla is participating.  Lately that smile has been around a lot.

At the end of the day, if you can’t laugh at some of the good, bad and ugly moments then you are going to find yourself having a lot more unnecessary bad moments.

I can’t say enough good things about Mahayla’s Mom.  In my mind, she is the definition of a good parent with special needs. The incredible progress Mahayla has made is due mostly to her mom’s patience, determination, dedication, flexibility and humor.  Eight month ago, we were excited if Mahayla got out of the car and came inside.  Last week, Mahayla wanted to keep working out even after class was over.

I am extremely thankful to get the opportunity to work with such great parents, especially Mahayla’s Mom.  I am constantly inspired and motivated to keep doing more for these kids/adults after being around her (and all my FITBuddies’ parents).  I am also very thankful to the staff and clients who have been nothing but supportive of Mahayla and gave her and her Mom a chance to be part of something much bigger a gym and a workout.

Story #6


Story #6

As I mentioned, I have had numerous “runners” that I have worked with over the years.  There is one particular instance that sticks out in my head.  I was working on a behavioral program with the parents of an 8 year old boy with ASD.  Basically, they were unable to take their child anywhere without a tantrum followed by him running off.  My job was to help the parents create a way of communicating with him to diminish these circumstances (he was non-verbal), and to expose him to common situations that would cause him to run off and show the parents how to work through such breakdowns.

On this particular day, we were on our own.  Mom needed a break so we went for a walk.  We didn’t even make it to the end of the driveway and he was gone.  The good news is that he did not go very far at all.  The bad news is that he tried to run into the neighbors house.  As he was screaming, crying and punching the porch, the neighbor came to the front door.  I had just reached him.  She took one look at him, one look at me and just started screaming to get him off her property!  This was not in the cards for us as 1) he was way too upset to re-direct him just yet and 2) he was twice the size of me so there was no hope for me moving him.  And then she lost it and told me I had 30 seconds to figure something out or she was calling the cops.  If looks could kill, that would have been it for her right then.  I told her to go get her phone for me and I’d call the cops for her.  She slammed the door in my face and I didn’t hear from her again.  As soon as she closed the door, the boy stopped resisting me and instead grabbed onto me for dear life in an almost desperate hug.  We sat there for a few more silent minutes before he was finally ready to walk back home.

I am not Thankful for stories such as this one, but it is situations like these, which unfortunately are somewhat of a common occurence for many parents with Autism, that make me more and more motivated to increase awareness.  It also makes me stop and think twice before I judge the mom who’s child is screaming in the grocery store, on the plane or at any public venue.  Regardless of whether the child is “typical” or autistic, I don’t think any parent enjoys these situations so instead of showing a look of annoyance (or even worse, yelling something at the parent/caregiver), show a look of compassion and move on.

Story #5

Back to the “Bad”…

Story #5…

Are you a Runner?

A common question in the fitness world.  Many of us label ourselves as runners, bikers, swimmers, lifters, etc.  While many may try to argue that one is better than the other, overall it is simply a way of identifying a passion, hobby or fitness modality that one prefers.  In the world of Autism, being labeled a “runner” is not a good thing. In fact, most parents, caregivers and teachers associate being a “runner” as a very bad or negative characteristic.

Many parents of children with Autism will place special locks on all their doors after  having to chase their child around the neighborhood on numerous occasions or after having to make the dreaded phone call to the police that their child is missing.

Many caregivers and aides have experienced the leisurely walk with a child with Autism that ends in a near death experience as the child darts into traffic with no hesitation.

It is not exactly easy for a teacher to leave a room full of children to chase after one child that darts from the room in the middle of class.

One second they are present and accounted for and the next, they are gone.  It is scary, dangerous and just plain inconvenient.  Unless mom, the aide or teacher is an avid sprinter, it also probably is not easy to catch them.  As an aide for individuals with autism, I experienced many sessions interrupted with a sprint down the block, followed by the catch (for lack of better terms), and then, if possible, a calm and quiet re-direction back to the house as yelling, reprimanding or making the child feel threatened in any way will only escalate the situation.

While there is nothing good about having a child who consistently runs away, this bad characteristic is actually the very first thing that sparked my interest in providing structured physical activity for these children.  Here is what I saw:

1) Very few resources and programs available to parents addressing specific physical needs of children with special needs

2) Children who experience extreme tantrums and behaviors and are unable to communicate and express what they are feeling or what set them off

3) Children who use physical activity as an escape or way to calm themselves down but in a very uncontrolled manner

4) Most of the kids that are “runners” are fast, really fast.  So why not take a strength and teach the child to use it in appropriate circumstances.  You don’t want to enforce that running all together is bad, you want to enforce certain circumstances when it is safe to run.  You also don’t want to try to replace a different sensory activity that doesn’t equate to their behavior (ie, a child who runs will most likely need some sort of physical release to calm them down; a child who squeezes or pinches, usually benefits more from a compression sensation such as being wrapped in a blanket or squeezing a ball).

Many children with autism are going to school all day and then in ABA type programs and other after school activities that place more and more demands on them.  Lets just say, if I were them, I think I would run as well:)  And this is how I started implementing physical activity into the children’s program.  Our sessions went from “when can I never see Jen again”  to “when will Jen be back” and even “when can I kiss Jen?”  In other words, our sessions were much more enjoyable and more productive.  The child was more apt to attend to a specific task and was much more focused during the task if we constantly rotated in “free time” that involved physical activity (and I don’t think any parent is going to argue that “free time” involves exercise)!  This also helped teach the children how to regulate their moods and situations where they felt threatened, overwhelmed, over-stimulated, etc and again gave them choices, such as run, take a walk or jump on a trampoline.  The parents were then encouraged to support this by having visual icons on hand to allow the child to communicate what they needed/wanted to to do calm down (of course, only give options that you are going to allow at that specific time).

While I would never wish a “runner” on any parent that has a child with Autism, I am Thankful that I have experienced a few “Bad” cases of “runners.”  These cases opened my eyes to a more successful way of programming, a way to incorporate more structured physical activity into their lives and eventually led to starting FITBuddies.  FITBuddies is not only about improving the health and wellness of this special population, it’s also about teaching these children/young adults how to regulate their moods, behaviors, etc with safe activities.

When starting with a new group, the kids are allowed to write their own workouts. They are given a list of items that are "allowed" and may choose anything they like from the list. They feel like they are "in charge" yet I only list activities for the day that I would like to implement. Then I slowly start adding in "Jen's Choice." When they are given a FREE choice, they always choose running!!